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Pricing & Negotiating: AARP.org Contract

Friday December 9th, 2011

by Bill Cramer

For about six years now, I’ve been shooting assignments for AARP. I’ve mostly worked for their member newsletter, AARP Bulletin. And more recently, I’ve shot a few things for their website. They also have a nice magazine called AARP The Magazine, which has a paid circulation of over 22 million according to Audit Bureau of Circulations. The subjects they have me shoot tend to be senior citizens (as you might imagine) and the stories cover just about anything, from nursing home romances to social security swindlers.

Recently, photo editor Bronwen Latimer hired me to do an environmental portrait of a guy named Bob Dunn, who each year flies from his home in Delaware to play Santa Claus at a mall in Oklahoma. (Interestingly, I learned from him that there are three main companies who are in the business of representing professional Santas, and until recently Kodak was one of them.) The photo was for a story on seasonal workers and Bronwen asked me to make a picture of him at home in his Santa suit. I’m not sure how many photographers would think to put AARP on their list of dream clients, but I’ve always enjoyed working for them. Everyone there is really nice, they pay pretty well, they have a pretty reasonable contract and they have a massive audience.

I’ve found that a small percentage of magazines I’ve worked with over the years have no contract at all. In those cases, I send them mine. Of the rest, about half have a contract that governs assignments into the indefinite future, while others, like AARP, send out a contract for each assignment. When I do get contracts with no time limit, I tend to add an expiration date. Here’s the AARP.org contract (click to enlarge):

Here’s how it breaks down:

1) Assignment. Who my assigning editor is and how the pictures will be used.

2) Description and Logistics. Who the subject is and when the shoot is scheduled. I can’t recall if it was the case here, but I frequently get calls for shoots that have already been scheduled. I find that some clients like to lock down the subject first, then find a photographer who’s available on that date. In cases where I’m already booked for that date, I’ll ask the client if I can check the subject’s availability for another available date rather than turning down the shoot, and often that works out.

3) Due Date. Strictly speaking, my normal schedule to turn around a web gallery is 48 hours. But as a practical matter, I deliver it as soon as I can. I don’t necessarily charge a rush fee even if the client asks to see it sooner than that. My normal turnaround time for reproduction file preps is another 48 hours and I frequently do charge rush fees (usually 75.00 additional for 24 hour delivery).

4) Compensation. I normally get 600.00 or 650.00/day plus expenses (assistant, digital fee, mileage, parking, tolls and meals (when appropriate) for assignments for The Bulletin and AARP.org. Many publications pay based on the actual space the photos occupy in the magazine in addition to or instead of a day rate. But space has never been a consideration because the pictures tend to be small in the Bulletin and on their website. They’re capping the expenses at 700.00, which I think is reasonable for web assignments. They seem to have a bit more latitude on Bulletin assignments (and I suspect even more for the magazine). Most contracts will establish that the photographer is an independent contractor rather than an employee, which is fine. However, there may be situations for some photographers who work at the client’s office/studio and with the client’s equipment, that then should be paid as an employee, with the client matching the payroll taxes.

5) Use. Even though the Assignment paragraph says that the picture is for “online and other digital media,” the Use paragraph says that AARP can use it “in any media provided that the photographs remain associated with the Assignment Article.” It’s vague to me whether that means any AARP publication or whether they’re referring just to AARP.org. They can use it for promotional purposes. Third party use is extra. Even though I think it could be more clearly written, I chose not to try to correct it. However, I’ve seen many cases where magazines offer very low budgets and ask for lots of use beyond the basic first print use and I’ll usually strike most of those extras.

6) Recording. Not sure if this applies to “behind the scenes videos.”

7) Deliverables. They ask that the photographer add metadata to the images. That’s unusual, but perfectly reasonable. (Now I just have to get into the habit of doing it.)

8) Representations and Warranties. Fine.

9) Miscellaneous. The agreement lasts as long as the term of the copyright to the photographs. I’ve never seen that before. It’s fine though, and I don’t know that it makes any difference. We will all be long gone. AARP returned a signed copy of the contract to me, which is really nice. Typically, whoever sends the contract signs it last. In cases where the photographer sends a client their contract, the photographer shouldn’t sign it first, because if the recipient makes revisions, it looks like the photographer agreed to those revisions.

Santa was a good sport, as you can see:

Here’s how they used it: http://www.aarp.org/work/working-after-retirement/info-09-2011/holiday-jobs-for-retirees.html

Here’s the invoice and model release (click to enlarge):

Invoice comments: I always refer to the date of the contract on the invoice so it’s clear which contract applies to that job. I have a full-time assistant, but I find most magazine accounting departments want to see an assistant invoice anyway, so I just create one. I usually charge magazines 300.00 for a web gallery and 25.00 for basic file prep. I normally only charge the client for meals if it’s a full day shoot. This one was just a few hours, so even though we had lunch on the way, I didn’t bill it to the client (though I did pay for my assistant’s meal.)

Release comments: I’m not sure what the “good and valuable consideration” would be in an editorial situation like this, but I don’t normally pay subjects for magazine shoots unless they’re hired as professional models. The release says that the model “understand(s) that AARP owns the copyright to the photos.” Not sure why it would matter why the subject would need to understand that. It contradicts the photographer contract.

Interview: When I cornered Bronwen for an interview, she deferred to MaryAnne Golon who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. MaryAnne is Consulting Director of Photography & Multimedia for AARP. And for those of you who don’t know, she has had a very accomplished career as a photo editor, including running Time Magazine’s photo department for a while and winning lots of awards along the way. She will be on the POYi jury this year for the University of Missouri and she is an advisory board member for Facing Change: Documenting America (www.facingchange.org), “a group of seriously talented photojournalists and writers creating a historical look at America during these turbulent times.” You can read more about MaryAnne at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MaryAnne_Golon.

I know that AARP hires photographers for AARP: The Magazine, AARP Bulletin and AARP.org. Does AARP use photography in other ways or for other products?

AARP assigns original photography for the magazine, the Bulletin, and the website based on established industry editorial rates and licensing.  Other areas of AARP may assign photography for advertising, marketing, and promotional uses across all platforms including print, broadcast, and the web.  The Brand area of the Association handles celebrity ambassadors and experts and assigns accordingly either for specific uses or as work for hire.

I’ve read that AARP has over 50 million members. Roughly how many people see the magazine, the bulletin and the website?

All 50 million members of AARP receive AARP, the magazine, and AARP The Bulletin by mail.  Web usage by members has been on the rise.  Here are some interesting factoids from 2011:  AARP.org has 5.5 million unique visitors every month with 825 million individual page views.

How frequently do the Bulletin and the magazine come out?

The Bulletin publishes 10 times a year and the magazine 6 times a year.

How do you describe the Bulletin in terms of the format/paper, compared to the magazine (tabloid, newsletter?)

The Bulletin is AARP’s nimblest print vehicle and is intended to be newsy.  It is printed on a high grade newsprint and can very much be seen as a newsletter.  The magazine is bi-monthly and is printed on high quality stock and is a glossier lifestyle publication.

How much does the Day Rate vary from photographer to photographer or from project to project?

There is little variation of the day rate unless rights beyond editorial are negotiated up front.  The magazine day rate is $800 per day and the Bulletin and website pay $600 per day.

Space has never come up for The Bulletin because it tends to use photographs fairly small. Does the magazine pay space over the day rate when they use a lot of pictures from an assignment or large pictures?

There is no space over day rate at AARP. The rates are comparable or above industry standards and include non-exclusive online and one-time print rights for the publications.

Do you have any thoughts about how editorial photographers are going to have to adapt generally, to the changing marketplace?

Freelance editorial photographers will need to develop multiple client bases if they have not already done so. The editorial market is shrinking in the journalism realm, but growing in other areas including lifestyle, fashion, and portraiture. I think social media is a great tool for freelance editorial photographers to link out to their websites and highlight their recent work. Twitter and Facebook are the giants of the social platforms.  LinkedIn is a more serious business-oriented site for posting. There are available platforms, such as Tweetdeck, that freelancers can use to post simultaneously to several sites at once to market their work.

One Response to “Pricing & Negotiating: AARP.org Contract”

  1. […] before, it was time for a new contract. Some magazines have contracts that last indefinitely. Others send out a new contract with each assignment. Spectrum prefers to renew their contract with their […]

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